Kohima, July 30: A capacity building of Lawyers and Paralegal Volunteers to respond to cases of Foreign National Prisoners in Custody – Child Care Institutions and Prisons was organized through a webinar today by the Nagaland State Legal Services Authority (NSLSA) and Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI).
Member Secretary, NSLSA, N Longshithung Ezung, in his opening remarks cited that the state of Nagaland currently has a Foreign National from Myanmar who is a juvenile currently in observation home. Such instances of sharing porous border or other issues related to foreign national prisoners in custody in the state or in the passage of time may arise in future.
He, therefore, said it is pertinent for panel lawyers and para legal volunteers to be acquainted with knowledge to deal with such cases.
The member secretary further noted that irrespective of nationality it is noted that it is our duty to ensure that access to justice is ensured.
CHRI Prison Reforms Programme, Programme Head, Madhurima Dhanuka while opening the session said that CHRI has worked on issues relating to detention and repatriation of FNPs in Indian prisons where she mentioned that over the past 2 years “CHRI have been able to assist in the repatriation of over 250 FNPs and assisted in providing consular access to over 500 FNPs across the country.”
Due to barriers to accessing justice and information in an alien country in addition to the closed nature of places of detention, FNPs are exposed to greater vulnerability, she said. As such, she noted that such discussions are imperative towards identifying these persons in addition to remove barriers to access to justice and ensuring effective legal representation.
Consultant, Prison Reforms Programme CHRI, Palak Chaudhari stated that first step the PLs and PLVs can take is to intimidate or communicate to High Commission or Embassy at the time of arrest. Underlying difficulties faced by foreign prisoners include lack of access to justice, discrimination, language barriers, immigration status or culture and religious discrimination.
According to a latest (2018) presented by the panelist, India currently has 5168 FNPs in Indian prisons wherein there was no report of FNPs in Nagaland. However, she mentioned that in the report “Strangers to Justice (2019)”, Nagaland had a record of 1 FNP from Nigeria. She later dealt on “Ensuring rights of foreign national prisoners (Consular access, Legal representation, Communication with family, Sentence Transfer and Repatriation).
On Foreign National Children in Child Care Institutions, Mahesh Menon, Assistant Professor, Daksha Fellowship, South Asian Law University explored categories of homes for children into observation homes and children’s homes where children maybe strayed into India with or without their parents or booked under the Foreigners Act or those children involved in crimes, especially trafficking of persons, drugs or arms. These children are kept in observation homes- Child Care Institutions. Children who are victims of trafficking and others are kept in children’s homes also known as Children in need of care and protection. As such, he urged the participants to explore the categories of Juvenile Justice Act.
Dr. Bipasha Roy, Child Rights Activist & Ex-Member Juvenile Justice Board, West Bengal stated that the hand holding needs to be strengthened as far as Foreign Nationals Children are concerned.
Ragini Zutshi, Associate Protection Officer, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) dwelling on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in detention gave detailed presentation on Identification & in absentia registration; and Legal Representation stated that around 195,000 refugees from Sri Lanka and Tibet are directly supported by Government of India and around 39,000 are registered under UNHCR mandate.
Further linking the focus to the need for legal assistance, the panelists said that “law clinics can not only provide assistance to clients during their asylum procedures but also provide legal advice and representation in courts.”
“Few Refugees and asylum seekers have to approach courts for different reasons for reasons linked to their immigration status, issues related to GBV, criminal or civil matters or sometimes they may be accused of being in conflict with law. Refugees live in multiple locations in the country and thus having effective network of those willing and able to provide legal support and assistance will bring in complementarities to what UNHCR and partners are trying to do.”
Amrita Paul, Senior Programme Officer, Prison Reforms Programme CHRI, giving the last presentation implored the participants to ponder on overarching concerns over ‘Who is a Refugee?’; identification of refugee and asylum seekers in detention; counseling & continued interaction; effective legal representation; existing supporting precedents to persuade release and steps towards protection; effectuate release from detention among others.
The training was participated by more than 70 lawyers and paralegal volunteers and judicial officers. The closing remark and vote of thanks was delivered by Kezhosano Kikhi, State Project Coordinator, NSLSA.
(Page News Service)